by Molly Oleson
Tyson Underwood, former director of the Sausalito Art Festival and founder of the Marin Art Festival, died at his home in Mill Valley on Jan. 9.
The artist and promoter of the arts had been suffering from myelodysplastic syndrome—a form of leukemia—for the past year and a half. Passing away just days before his birthday, Underwood was, according to a tribute on the Marin Art Festival website, “surrounded by loved ones who cheered him on.”
Born and raised near Salisbury, North Carolina, the “lifelong Southerner, in spite of my best intentions,” as he referred to himself, landed in Sausalito in 1969, after studying at Duke University. In 1978, when the Sausalito Art Festival was 29 years old, Underwood was appointed as the director by the City Council, and is credited with reviving what had become a struggling annual tradition. Emphasizing local artists and raising the bar on the quality of the art, he turned the event into a popular place for artists and art enthusiasts alike until the end of his tenure in 1984.
Underwood was one of the first artists to have a studio in Sausalito’s Industrial Center Building (ICB), was a founding board member of both the Marin Arts Council and the Headlands Center for the Arts and wrote an art column for many years for the Pacific Sun. But one of his biggest projects was establishing the Marin Art Festival, which he ran for 17 years in Marin Center’s Lagoon Park.
“The Marin Art Festival was Tyson’s amazing gift to artists and the community; a true labor of love,” wrote Kathleen Lipinski on an online memory wall.
“All who knew him got great belly laughs, as there was no way not to,” wrote Leslie Allen, of the ICB studios. “Tyson always found something great and he always found kind words.”
Steve Feldman, who knew Underwood from Duke, shared on the memory wall that he once asked his friend if he believed that there was anything after this life. “I dunno, but I’m kind of looking forward to finding out,” Underwood replied.
Underwood is survived by his son, Tyson N.F. Underwood, daughter Anna Links, stepdaughter Grace Rubenstein, brother Alfred Underwood and former wife, Kathleen Foote.